It is difficult to learn about forgiveness from a person who stubbornly insists that forgiving must be complete and unconditional or that it is nothing!
What an unusual and unrealistic burden to put onto another person’s back. Some bad acts are difficult, if not impossible to forgive completely, unconditionally and at once. It is easy to tell a person who has had a minor thing done to them that they have to forgive in such a lofty and perfect fashion.
It is equally easy for some to sell the same demand to a person who has been traumatized, has had their last dollar stolen, or who has been abused and brutalized.
That is wrong. That kind of burden might be enjoyable to place on someone else, but it can lead the person to hate and to reject the art, craft, skill and joy of forgiving as much as they resent the person who reduces a priceless life’s journey to a simple and useless demand for perfection.
The truth about forgiving is that it must be learned, practiced and refined serially and incrementally, especially when the trauma and pain are profound. As healing comes, if it ever comes, we can make an effort to forgive, again and again, as many times as it takes us, and for as long as we have the capacity.
Dogma will not lead us down the path. Platitudes and memorized slogans will not do it. Our minds and hearts must take us to the goal of forgiving and letting go as soon as our minds and hearts get well enough to do so.
God does that for us by forgiving us for a lot of things! God expects no more of us than we can do. God tests us no more than we can bear, when we believe in God’s power and when we have even a microscopic speck of faith.
And sometimes we motivate ourselves to work on the art and life of forgiving as we take on our roles of doing service to God and to others.
With some traumas that are inflicted by others, God created a marvelous machine that gives one reaction: no memory of the events.
But when there is a memory, the bad deeds of others will come back again and again, and so will the pain. When those deeds are minor, they are easy to forget and to forgive over time.
But in the worst trauma, the pain is fresh and new again and again. The harmful person must be forgiven again and again. At some point the bad behavior and acts must stop. We are not made to be martyrs and to let ourselves and others be harmed again and again.
What of the person who is relentlessly malignant or destructive, for whom there is no repair and by whom there is no effort to stop doing wrong? There is nothing wrong with getting this person out of our life and moving on before they do something that creates the lasting type of trauma that will come back to haunt us over and over again.
That is conditional forgiving. If the harm keeps coming, the healing cannot begin. If the healing cannot begin, then complete and whole forgiving will be difficult or impossible.
It helps to prevent having to forgive anything if we can see the behavior and the person separately. It is negative and destructive to hate the person when we can hate the behavior instead. It is positive to do something to get that behavior gone from our lives, and it is fine not to lose the love for the person, if there ever was love.
We can love the person and hate the behavior, refusing to put up with it, to tolerate it or to expose others to suffer from it.
How many times have friends, neighbors, children and whole communities been put at risk and in harm’s way because a person claimed to be “forgiving”, demonstrating it all by enabling a bad person to remain in the home or community undetected?
This is not behavior that has any good to it whatsoever. There is a duty to protect others, and that means letting others know when a person has done wrong and is likely to do it again. Confusing weakness, denial and enabling with forgiving is worst distortion of all.
When we work to develop our forgiving muscles, we have to learn to identify and to accept the truth about the situation. We have to tell the truth to ourselves about the acts and the situations. We have to tell if we are exaggerating, minimizing, denying, embellishing or are making minor matters into major offenses.
We must know whether past trauma and past offenses are pushing our buttons. When we know the size of the ball of pain, we know what it will take to apply the right size of forgiving.
We must know whether we are denying and minimizing major offenses and why. Are we staying in bad situations because of dependency, money or something in us that is keeping us there? It may be that we need to forgives ourselves, which is sometimes the most difficult form of forgiving.
We have to identify and to know the truth about the matter before we can even take the first limited and conditional baby steps toward forgiving and letting go. The lie, the rationalization, the deviation from the facts and the denial are the roadblocks to learning how to forgive.
We are allowed to begin at the beginning and to let no one demand or convince us that we must start our journey at the end.
We give a rich gift to God when we strive to forgive, but only when we can truly forgive and when we can forgive what is truly wrong. As we learn and practice, it is fine to forgive in increments. It is fine to forgive repeatedly. It is fine to forgive conditionally. It is fine to forgive in any way that we are able to, and in any way that is good and right.
If the act of forgiving does not have these results, then there is no permanent failure, it is just that more work has to be done:
The air gets lighter
and the heart gets lighter
and the spirit gets lighter
and the pains go away
and the rage goes away
and the hate goes away
and the love flows in
and the great spirit flows into us
and the freedom from our burdens
gives us joy.
Feel free to comment, to disagree, to offer other perspectives and to help to refine this discussion.